Every year names move up and down, on and off the US Social Security Administration (SSA) charts of popular names. A name will appear on the charts if it has been given to more than four babies of one gender in that year. Usually when a name enters the lists, it enters for one gender first and takes some time to chart for the other one (if it ever does).
Take the now unisex name Cameo for example. Cameo first entered the girls chart in 1957. But it wasn’t until 1979 – more than 20 years later – that it started to chart for boys too. It also charts more irregularly for boys than it does for girls.
So it’s fair to say that it takes quite a special name to simultaneously enter both the boys and the girls charts for the first time in the same year. There is something about it that has captured the imagination of parents, who think it has a sound and feel that could work for either gender.
In 2012 there were five such unisex baby names to enter the charts:
IREOLUWA – Given to 11 girls and 8 boys in 2012
Also written IreOluwa, apparently it is pronounced ee-ray-o-LOO-wah. I’ve never actually heard it in person though, so if this is wrong feel free to correct me in the comments below!
Ireolewa comes from the Nigerian language of the Yoruba people, consisting of Ire, meaning a ‘blessing or positive thing’ and Oluwa meaning ‘God’, hence this name most likely means ‘blessing from God’. Many Yoruba names contain the element Oluwa, and Ireoluwa is quite similar to Oreoluwa, which means ‘gift of God’.
This is an appealing sounding name with a beautiful meaning – a great option if your family/child is of Nigerian or even African descent.
KENTLEE – Given to 5 girls and 6 boys in 2012
In recent years we’ve seen almost every spelling of Kinley, Kinsley, Kenley, and Kensley imaginable. Then came Kentley and Kentleigh. I guess it was only a matter of time before people branched out a little more and came up with Kentlee. Another smoosh, Kent means ‘edge’ and ‘Lee‘ means ‘meadow’, so Kentlee would mean ‘meadow’s edge’.
As a name, this is not quite as soft sounding as it’s predecessors. It does however have quite a modern, surname-y feel to it that is quite popular at the moment. However it is likely to get slightly lost in this group of similar sounding names. Interestingly, Kentley has also charted for the both genders in the last couple of years, but the Kentleigh spelling has so far been reserved for girls only.
MATHAI – Given to 10 girls and 8 boys in 2012
If you missed the second season of ‘The Voice’, you may not recognise the inspiration behind this name. Sharon Mathai – known only as Mathai – is a singer from Texas who was born in Queens to Indian parents. She made it to the top ten on ‘The Voice’ as a member of Adam Levine’s team after a strong performance of Adele‘s ‘Rumour Has It’ in the blind auditions , and has recently released her debut single ‘Once Again’.
Mathai is pronounced mah-TYE, and it’s easy to see why parents are attracted to it for both boys and girls. Nickname Matty is popular for both genders, as is the name Tye/Ty/Thai. It’s quite an attractive sounding name. If Mathai’s career takes off the way the judges on ‘The Voice’ think it will, we could be seeing a lot more of this name.
MUSIC – Given to 6 girls and 6 boys in 2012
I find it amusing that with all the time I’ve spent pondering about musically related names, I missed the most obvious one – Music. It’s fabulous in it’s simplicity, and I’m surprised it hasn’t appeared on the charts before now considering the popularity of word names. Could be a very cool name to have.
ZIKORA – Given to 6 girls and 10 boys in 2012
The last name on this list is also a Nigerian name, this time from the Igbo people. Zikora is actually an abbreviated form (or nickname) for the longer names Zikoranachidimma, Zikoranachukwudimma or Zikoranaudodimma. The first two of these mean ‘show the world that God is great’, while the third means ‘show the world that peace is great’, so Zikora would have both of these meanings.
I’m not sure how this one is pronounced, although it’s likely zi-KOR-ah, which is quite spunky sounding. Especially with that Z sound. Since it’s more of a nickname than a “traditional” African name, it’s one that could possibly also work well for people without an African background.
Overall it’s a pretty cool list of new entrants – I can see why they appealed to parents of both boys and girls. Only time will tell if these name will be flashes in the pan or will have real staying power.
Brooke Cussans – better known on the Nameberry forums as bluejuniper – is based in Melbourne, Australia and is the author of name blog Baby Name Pondering. She especially loves rare and unusual names.
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